Friday, November 26, 2010
Okay, I confess, I'm old enough to remember Jimi Hendrix, yes, even old enough to
have gone to Woodstock to hear him perform.
Better still, while a teenage high school student, I often ran away to Woodstock where I would spend weeks liberating crab meat and cartons of cigarettes from the local supermarket, and having magical encounters with beautiful men.
During one jaunt, I lived briefly with a fellow, Tim, who took me in when I was under the weather, fed me like a little bird, and nursed me back to health. He was a sweet guy, but it bothered me at that young age to be loved like that. I was too busy reading Rimbaud, the infernal bridegroom, and practicing to be a poete maudit. So, in the wee hours of the night, when Tim went off to work, I went to a club, the Elephant, off Tinker Street, where one often saw musicians hang out, and jam, groups like Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys." I got to wear my high heels and flirt, mostly.
One night, it was maybe two or three o'clock in the morning, I was sitting at a table with a group of people I barely knew at the Elephant when Jimi Hendrix walked in. He was radiant, and wearing pink satin. What can I say, he was high voltage, electric, and among the most strikingly handsome people I'd ever seen. He had high cheekbones, a prominent jaw, long, bony fingers, the kind of fingers one might expect to find on a classical pianist.
Jimi filled the room with his aura.
He was flanked by two middle-aged white guys in suits. He appeared completely bored by whatever it was they were talking about. The people at my table suddenly screamed out: "Look, that's Jimi Hendrix, look!" and started pointing.
Feeling totally humiliated and embarrassed, I turned my chair squarely around, so I would face away from them. I folded my arms in utter disgust. As I glanced over to my right, Jimi was sitting with his back to the wall, and next to the two suits. At the same moment I was turning away from the table, Jimi looked me in the eye, and moved quickly away from the suits, folded his arms across his chest mimicing mine, looked me dead in the eye, and we both started laughing. He knew how I felt, and I him. It was a moment unlike any before, or since.
In the years following his death, I came to know more about Jimi. He was a poet. He was a solitary man. He was a perpetual outsider. This we shared.
If you were around back then, you, too, may remember that Jimi wasn't accepted by either blacks or whites. He was ostracized by both. I'm reminded of someone else who also has that kind of charisma, magnetism, sensitivity, and intelligence, Barack Obama, a man who isn't black enough for most African-Americans, and isn't white enough for most of "white" America. Oh, what we do to the people who aren't "just like us" in this country.
It was only when he became a legend that Jimi managed to evade the men in suits, but he became the epitome of "other" to everyone else.
There is nothing new here. Christ had to die before there could be Christianity. I guess we must strip a man bare, or his celebrity won't taste as good.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Oscar Wilde once said, "Society often forgives the criminal. It never forgives the dreamer." Jimi was a dreamer alright.
"If I'm free, it's because I'm always running," he wrote.
You don't have to run anymore, Jimi. You now have a permanent place in the hearts of
outsiders, and poets; dreamers, and presidents.